Reservoir Dogs is Quentin Tarantino's 1992 debut as a feature film director. It co-stars Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, and Lawrence Tierney. Tarantino also has a minor role as does former professional criminal turned author Eddie Bunker (who had been the technical adviser for the 1978 crime film "Straight Time" starring Dustin Hoffman as a small time jewel thief.)
The screenplay, written by Tarantino, was inspired by Hong Kong director Ringo Lam's 1987 Long hu feng yun (City on Fire), starring Chow Yun-Fat and Danny Lee . Reportedly one of Tarantino's favourite films, he borrowed much of the plot as well as many of the scenes.
Tarantino (who had been working as a video store clerk in the Los Angeles community of Manhattan Beach) was originally going to shoot it with his friends, but luckily he was able to get the script to actor Harvey Keitel, who loved it. Funds were raised partly from selling the script for True Romance and what funds Keitel himself could raise. The final budget was a mere $1.2 million. The makers had so little to work with that many of the costumes used in the film belonged to the actors themselves.
The title is a corruption of Au revoir, les enfants, a film by Louis Malle.
Mr. Brown (Tarantino) offers insight into Madonna's song Like a Virgin
The film portrays the events preceding and immedately following a badly botched Los Angeles jewel heist (but not the actual heist itself) orchestrated by Joe "Daddy" Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) and his son Eddie "Nice Guy" Cabot (Chris Penn.) Six men are recruited by the Cabots to carry out the heist and, for reasons of security, are given "color" aliases — Mr. White, Mr. Orange, Mr. Blonde, Mr. Pink, Mr. Blue, and Mr. Brown — to protect their identities and are further instructed to never tell one another anything of their personal backgrounds.
Reservoir Dogs begins with Joe, Eddie, Pink, Orange, Brown, Blue, Blonde, and White eating breakfast at a small diner. Mr. Brown (Quentin Tarantino) at length discusses his interpretation of Madonna's popular song Like a Virgin, after which Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) expresses his anti-tipping policy.
The scene jumps to a car with Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) and Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) immediately following the failed robbery. Mr. Orange has been seriously injured by a shot to the lower abdomen, and Mr. White is attempting to comfort Mr. Orange while at the same time trying to navigate the car back to the warehouse rendezvous point.
At the warehouse, Mr. White and Mr. Orange discover that they are the first to arrive. Mr. Pink comes in shortly thereafter, and discusses with Mr. White what went wrong while Mr. Orange lies on the warehouse floor bleeding profusely. Mr. Pink suggests a setup since a large contingent of police officers with guns drawn arrived almost immediately after the alarm had been set off. Mr. Pink reveals that he was nevertheless able to take the diamonds and hide them.
Flashback: Mr. Pink running down the sidewalk, a valise filled with $2 million worth of diamonds in hand and police hot on his tail. He is hit by a car, but manages to get up, force the driver out, shoot and kill two police officers, and drive away. Back at the warehouse, Mr. Pink and Mr. White both express their anger at and confusion over the fact Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) had shot and killed several of the hostages after the alarm was set off.
Mr. White and Mr. Pink move to the main floor of the warehouse with the badly injured Mr. Orange. Mr. White and Mr. Pink argue over whether or not to leave the warehouse in fear of being apprehended by the police, and whether or not to take Mr. Orange to a hospital. When Mr. White reveals to Mr. Pink that he'd accidentally told Mr. Orange his first name and where he came from (Larry from Milwaukee) in violation of Joe Cabot's instructions, Mr. Pink begins to fear for his own safety and argues with Mr. White, briefly accusing Mr. White of being a police informer.
The argument climaxes with both men pointing loaded pistols at each other. A wisecracking Mr. Blonde casually walks in sipping a soda. Their arguing continues, although not as dramatically, until Mr. Blonde takes them outside to his car. Mr. Blonde opens the trunk to reveal a captured police officer.
Flashback: Joe Cabot's office and the revelation of Mr. Blonde's true name--Vic Vega. Vega has just been released from prison after serving four years for taking the blame for a crime Joe had committed. Eddie and Vega wrestle around for a bit in a friendly way, while a testy Joe looks on in dismay. Joe and Eddie offer Vega a steady job with good pay (longshoreman) to help allay Vega's suspicious parole officer and then asks him if he would be interested in helping pull off a big diamond heist for them. Vega agrees.
The film returns to the present. Eddie is on a cellular phone discussing the "major problem" which has occurred. Eddie arrives at the warehouse and storms in to see Mr. Blonde, Mr. Pink, and Mr. White pounding on the police officer (Kirk Baltz ) that was in Mr. Blonde's trunk. The three summarize the events of the afternoon to Eddie, who refuses to believe there is any setup. Eddie orders Mr. Pink and Mr. White to come with him to move the cars and to retrieve the stolen diamonds from Mr. Pink's hiding spot, while ordering Mr. Blonde to stay with the dying Mr. Orange and the tied up police officer.
Mr. Pink and Mr. White refuse to leave Mr. Blonde alone with Mr. Orange and the officer, calling him a psychopath, while Mr. Blonde calmly defends himself and sips his soda. Eddie dismisses the claims and takes Mr. White and Mr. Pink outside with him to move the cars and gather the diamonds, leaving Blonde alone with Mr. Orange and the officer.
The ear-cutting scene
At this point the infamous ear-cutting scene begins. Mr. Blonde and the officer exchange some words. The officer denies knowing anything about the setup, and begs to be released. Mr. Blonde, in a calm and disturbing way, states that he does not care what the officer does or does not know, but that he is going to torture him anyway. Mr. Blonde turns on the radio which is playing Stuck in the Middle With You by the artist Stealers Wheel and moves slowly and sadistically in rhythm with the music towards the officer. Mr. Blonde tapes the officer's mouth shut, pulls out a straight razor, and begins waving it around in front of the officer's face. Angry, Mr. Blonde slashes the officer above the eye and takes a few steps backward. He then charges back up to the officer and violently grabs his head, cuts off his right ear, and dangles it in front of the officer, who is screaming behind the tape in agony.
Mr. Blonde then casually walks out of the warehouse while the officer continues to scream in agony. He grabs a small gasoline container from the trunk of his car and brings it back inside. He opens the container and pours gasoline over the officer and leaves a small trail of it on the ground as he steps back a few feet.
The tape on the officer's face falls off and, in agony, he begs for mercy. Mr. Blonde dismisses his requests and prepares to ignite the gasoline with his cigarette lighter. Suddenly, a series of gunshots ring out and hit Mr. Blonde several times in the chest, causing him to stagger backwards and fall into the wall, dead. We see that the shooter is the now-conscious Mr. Orange.
Mr. Orange, clearly dying from his wound, tells the officer that he is actually an undercover police detective named Freddy Newandyke. The tied-up officer, who gives his name as Marvin Nash, reveals that he knew this all along, having met Mr. Orange several months previously (Orange did not remember this). Mr. Orange reassures the officer that a large police force is waiting a few blocks down the road for his signal to advance. The officer begs him to call in the force in light of both men's serious injuries, but Mr. Orange refuses to call anyone in until Joe arrives.
Revelations about Freddy/Mr. Orange
Flashback: Mr. Orange a/k/a Freddy and a police detective named Holdaway (Randy Brooks ) meet at a restaurant. Freddy tells Holdaway that he has secured a spot in a heist with Joe Cabot. Freddy talks about his first meeting with the other members of the gang, and, judging from Mr. White's discussion about the Brewers, Holdaway guesses he is from Milwaukee.
Flashback: the first meeting, where Mr. Orange tells a story, which he and Holdaway made up, about how he was almost caught by sheriff's deputies while carrying a travel bag full of marijuana while in the men's room the Los Angeles train station.
Flashback: A police station, Freddy and Holdaway search for info on Mr. White, who they discover is named Larry Dimmick. (This was omitted from the released version of the film but can be viewed as one of the extras on the "Anniversary Edition" DVD.)
Flashback: Mr. Orange's apartment a few days before the robbery, where he is called down to Eddie's car by cellular telephone. Mr. Orange arms himself with two handguns, places a wedding band on his finger, looks at himself in the mirror and tries to calm himself down. Mr. Orange then proceeds to the warehouse where the robbers will receive their aliases.
Flashback: The rendezvous warehouse, before the robbery, where some of the group is talking and joking. When everyone finally arrives, Joe begins to explain the master plan and gives everyone — except for himself and Eddie — their aliases. Mr. Pink protests his name as being too effiminate and Mr. Brown says his name sounds too much like "Mr. Shit." The group argues until Joe quickly and bluntly lays down the law and regains control of the meeting. The scene ends as Joe begins describing the holdup plan.
Flashback: Freddy and Holdaway discussing the robbery plan. Freddy expresses his discomfort with the entire undercover operation but Holdaway calms him down and assures him that protection will be there for him. (Another scene which was deleted from the released version.)
Flashback: Mr. White and Mr. Orange sitting in a car in front of the diamond exchange several days before the robbery discussing the plan in detail. Mr. White quizzes Mr. Orange on the plan's details and offers advice on how to deal with any problems that may arise. There seems to be good chemistry between the two.
Flashback: Mr. Brown, Mr. White and Mr. Orange fleeing from the police immediately following the robbery. Mr. Brown, driving, is bleeding from the head and crashes into the back of a parked car. Mr. White jumps out of the car and runs to the end of the alley to find a police car coming around the corner. As the police car stops, Mr. White rapidly fires his two pistols into the car's windshield, killing both officers. Mr. White comes back to the car to find Mr. Brown dead. Mr. White and Mr. Orange proceed to the end of the alley and force a car to stop and order the driver out. The driver (Suzanne Celeste ) however, is armed with a revolver and shoots Mr. Orange in the stomach just after he opens the door. Mr. Orange shoots the driver in the forehead, killing her instantly. Mr. White pulls Mr. Orange, shocked by what he just did, into the car and they begin to drive to the rendezvous warehouse, the same scene with which the film proper began.
Climax and conclusion
Mr. White, Mr. Pink, and Eddie return to the warehouse to find Mr. Blonde dead and the officer bloodied and covered in gasoline. Mr. Orange tells thim that Mr. Blonde went insane and was going to burn the officer alive. Eddie, furious at Mr. Orange, pulls out his gun and shoots the injured officer several times in the chest, killing him.
Mr. Orange tries to cover his actions by claiming that Mr. Blonde was going to kill the officer, himself and the rest of the gang once they walked in. Mr. White believes him, Eddie thinks he is lying and Mr. Pink is neutral, trying to calm everyone down. Eddie demands that Mr. Orange tell him the truth, at which point Joe walks in and claims that anything else Mr. Orange says would just be "more bullshit".
Joe then accuses Mr. Orange of being an undercover cop because he wasn't "100% sure" that he could be trusted. Mr. White dismisses Joe's claim and adamantly defends Mr. Orange. Joe pulls his gun out and points it at Mr. Orange; Mr. White pulls his gun out and points it at Joe; and Eddie pulls his gun out and points it at Mr. White. Mr. Pink screams for everyone to calm down as the three yell at each other and threaten to shoot. Suddenly, everyone except for Mr. Pink and Mr. Orange starts to fire all at once.
In the script the standoff is not described. If one watches the film closely one can see that Joe shoots Mr. Orange one time then Eddie shoots Mr. White and Mr. White shoots Joe. No one actually shoots Eddie. (This was acknowledged by director Tarantino as an error involving blood squibs that did not go off, as White was supposed to shoot Eddie as he is falling down from his wound, from which he does not die.)
Joe and Eddie are dead, while Mr. White is wounded and collapses on the floor. Mr. Pink, unharmed, stares in shock at the carnage for a while, then grabs the valise full of diamonds and runs out of the warehouse.
Mr. White pulls Mr. Orange close to him and points his gun at Mr. Orange. Mr. Orange tells Mr. White that he's a cop. Mr. White, clearly horrified by this statement, puts the gun to Mr. Orange's cheek as he tries to control his tears. The police storm inside and demand Mr. White put the gun down. At this point Tarantino pushes into a closeup on Mr. White's face. We don't see Mr. Orange as White shoots him in the head, followed by the police shooting Mr. White.
As is stated above, the jewel heist itself is not shown; the majority of the film's conflict takes place between the criminals themselves as they attempt to sort out the events of the day, while the tension among them mounts. The jewel heist can be considered a McGuffin.
The narration makes extensive use of flashbacks. For instance, at one point, the identity of the undercover cop, or "the rat" as the robbers put it, is revealed to the audience but not the protagonists.
The film quickly gained notoriety for the amount of profanity in the dialogue, and for the level of violence it contained. However, Tarantino has pointed out that there are actually very few scenes of overt violence shown: for instance, in the infamous "ear torture" scene, the camera focuses away from the actors at the critical point (instead scanning a wall on which the words "Watch Your Head" have been spray-painted).
By the standard of mainstream Hollywood action movies, the body count is quite low: there are 11 fatal shootings in the film. What is perhaps unusual about the violence in the film is the combination of gritty (and gory) realism with quirky touches, such as 1970s pop music, not least during the ear-slicing scene. The film takes place while a local radio station is conducting a marathon "Super Sounds of the '70s" week.
The film is a reversal of the traditional whodunit; instead of focusing on a police trying to figure out who committed a crime, it focuses on criminals who are trying identify the police informer among them.
Although all of the men are career criminals, each has his own separate set of ethics. We see them debate the importance of tipping waitresses, avoiding civilian casualties and mistakes and following orders.
Characters die because they are loyal: either to a friend, to the Cabot gang, or to the police. Mr. Pink, who believes loyalty isn't "professional", is the only character to survive, although he is captured by police as he runs out the door.
- Harvey Keitel — Mr. White/Larry Dimmick
- Tim Roth — Mr. Orange/Freddy
- Michael Madsen — Mr. Blonde/Vic Vega
- Chris Penn — Nice Guy Eddie
- Steve Buscemi — Mr. Pink
- Lawrence Tierney — Joe Cabot
- Quentin Tarantino — Mr. Brown
- Kirk Baltz — Officer Marvin Nash
- Randy Brooks — Detective Holdaway
- Robert Ruth — Shot cop
- Rich Turner — 1st Sheriff's deputy
- Maria Strova — Background radio play [voice]
- Michael Sottile — Teddy
- Burr Steers — Background radio play [voice]
- David Steen — 2nd Sheriff's deputy
- Steven J. Wright — K-Billy DJ [voice]
- Edward Bunker — Mr. Blue
- Suzanne Celeste — Shot woman driver
- Lawrence Bender — Young cop / Background radio play [voice]
- Stevo Poliy — 4th Sheriff's deputy
- Laurie Latham Background radio play [voice]
- Tony Cosmo — 3rd Sheriff's deputy
- Linda Kaye — Shocked woman
- Craig Hamann — Background radio play [voice]